The silhouette of Cass McCombs at Great American Music Hall

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Moving shadows

"Shhhhh," hushed everyone around me. It was like being chided in multi-directional stereo.

It was Friday night in San Francisco and folk rocker Cass McCombs was performing at Great American Music Hall.

The house lights had dimmed and panel displays along the back of the stage lit up. An initial hushed silence rose into a chorus of shushing, which after five minutes, escalated into impatient giggling and of course, more "Shhhhh"ing.

Moving shadows headed toward the stage causing a stir of excitement as the band began setting up. An equipment problem led to more audience participation as the crowd hooted and hollered for the show to begin.

Finally, beautiful music filled the air as Cass McCombs and his band launched into jaunty "Prima Donna" - an excellent tune off of his 2009 LP Catacombs. "Angel Blood, "My Sister, My Spouse," and "Love Thine Enemy" followed.

But the show lost some of its luster after the first few songs. Zero stage lighting other than the soft glittering panels behind the band resulted in a disconnect. The music sounded fine but fans were only able to to see the musicians' silhouettes sway back and forth -- it got old. I heard a patron complain loudly that he'd rather be listening to McCombs in the dark at home -- the beer's cheaper and there'd be less of a draft. Ouch.

With his music already so mellow and understated, it's odd that McCombs would chose to deprive his fans of watching him perform live.

Except for the occasional "woo!" the audience kept it chill and low energy after early enthusiasm died down. Most fans started leaving halfway through the concert, and to McComb's credit, he didn't seem to notice and continued playing as if to a packed house.

The night's final performance, to my delight, was a 15-minute rendition of "County Line" off of last year's Wit's End. If ever there was a jam to rule them all, this was it, but my sing-a-long dreams were dashed when finally succumbing to the apathy around me, I ended up only mouthing the words. Afterwards, a couple dozen fans knocked around, lingering for an encore that never came.

Julia B. Chan is a writer and hosts "Play for Today," a program on Radio Valencia -- www.radiovalencia.fm -- every Friday from 6 to 8pm. Follow her on Twitter @onTheBeat.